Self-Esteem...Who Needs It?
by Scott Bradley
by Scott Bradley
I lost my best friend recently. No, not by death, but by mutual consent. My friend decided I was so incredibly messed-up that he was obliged to condemn me and my path. He belongs, I would say, to the confrontational school of enlightenment. For my part, I decided that this was not soil that could sustain true friendship, so I said goodbye.
I will spare you the gruesome details of his attack and simply leave you to wonder how this pontificator of things ‘spiritual’ could be so dismissed. Suffice it to say that, though I do have my ‘issues’, I found his words both ridiculous and venomous.
Suffering such an attack I was quick to bolster my self-esteem. “These things aren’t true are they? Of course not! I know myself.” This is what Rongzi taught us to do. It is not the external, the opinion of others, that should define our sense of self, but the internal, our own self-esteem. “To be insulted is not a disgrace,” he told his face-conscious contemporaries. (Ch 33) Zhuangzi, for his part, tells us that most people base their self-esteem on the opinion of others. So, “even Rongzi would laugh at them.” (Ch 1) “Even?” Yes, “even”, because Rongzi had only begun to free himself—he was still fettered by his need for self-esteem, however accomplished. “But what if we were to depend on nothing?” Zhuangzi goes on to ask. Then our wandering would indeed be “free and unfettered.” True freedom is not having to worry about a me-image at all. It is when, as happened for Yan Hui, “my self has never begun to exist.” (Ch. 4) “It is just being empty, nothing more,” Zhuangzi summarizes. (Ch 7)
I thank my former friend. For however hurtful his condemnation might have been, it is as if he has given me a life-time membership to a spiritual gym. All I have to do is exercise and learn to be free. Self-esteem...who needs it?
You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.